Lamb Ragu over Mezzi Rigatoni
You have to trust me on this one... you HAVE to make this. I don't care that it takes hours to make; it doesn't matter. You HAVE to make this. When you taste this ragu, you will literally think you are sitting in a fine restaurant, but you're not... you're in your own living room, probably sitting on the couch in your sweats using the coffee table as your dinner table and baby, life is good. Winter has kicked into high gear and many of us are looking for some good, comforting dinners to make that are full of flavor and I'm telling you, this is exactly what you're looking for.
This perfect recipe comes from brilliant Chef Andrew Carmellini, who used to run the restaurant, a voce, on Madison Avenue in NYC. Mark and I ate there a few years ago and the food was out of this world. The pasta so delicate, the ragu so rich and flavorful. He's currently working on opening a new restaurant in NYC, so keep your ear to the ground.
Mark actually grew up in the same city as Chef Carmellini and one of the things they both had in common were Italian grandmothers that taught them a ton about cooking. Chef Carmellini shares stories of his grandmother, as well as many other personal stories that lead him down the path of culinary greatness in his top notch cook book, Urban Italian: Simple Recipes and True Stories from a Life in Food. After eating at his restaurant, we ran right out and bought this cookbook the minute it hit the shelves. The Lamb Ragu was the first thing we cooked out of it and we were thrilled with the results. I highly recommend this cookbook because it contains an abundance of useful and interesting information regarding the art of cooking, as well as lots of pictures, which to me, make a great cookbook.
So let's talk about how to make this fabulous dish so you can get started on your own version...
Chef Carmellini suggests using lamb shoulder meat for this recipe because it's got the best meat-to-fat ratio for tender meat. So we did just that and got ourselves a lovely lamb shoulder from the West Side Market and we butchered and ground it ourselves. It's just more fun that way.
So, the first thing you do is heat some olive oil in a large stewpot over medium-high heat. Add a pound and a half of ground lamb shoulder to the pot and brown the meat over high heat, about 5 minutes. If the lamb releases a lot of liquid so the meat begins to steam instead of browns, just drain off some of the juice and put the pot back on the heat to start the browning process again.
Next, add the carrots, onion, and celery and mix well. Cook together over high heat until the vegetables start to soften, about 2 minutes.
Now add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Cook together until the mixture becomes a thick reddish mix, about 1 minute. Then add the red wine and stir to incorporate, making sure that no bits of meat or vegetable are sticking to the bottom. Cook until the wine evaporates completely, about 2 minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes and the stock or broth. Then add the bay leaves, cumin, coriander, fennel, red pepper flakes, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Scrape down the sides of the pot again.
Bring the mixture to a low boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the ragu cooking at a simmer. Cook the lamb, uncovered, until the liquid evaporates and the flavors meld, about 1 1/2 hours. Continue scraping the sides of the pot at regular intervals to avoid burnt bits. The meat will turn dark brown and the liquid will turn a dark orange color as it cooks.
When it's done, all the flavors will be melded, and the sauce will look like a sauce: dark brown, rich, thick, and textured.
Look at that... can't you just taste it???
To finish the dish, cook the pasta of your choice. Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce, and stir together over the heat, adding the olive oil, butter, and mint to make it smooth and rich tasting on the tongue. Remove the pot from the heat, ladle the pasta and sauce into individual bowls, and top with the pecorino.
Make this dish on a weekend and make a double batch of it. You will WANT leftovers for lunch through the week. Oh your co-workers are gonna be SO jealous!